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Cautious with Headlines: Stocks ticked lower last week, with the S&P 500 declining 0.7%. The index is now up 10.9% from its October 12 closing low of 3,577.03 and down 17.3% from its January 3 closing high of 4,796.56. If the story stopped there, it would be one of absolute uncertainty and a little chaotic. But a few things to remember. The stock market reflects the economy to some degree. The S&P 500 is more about the manufacture and sale of goods. U.S. GDP is about providing services.

When it comes to something like employment, it’s vital to remember that employers lay off every month, even during boom times. But even 1.3 million layoffs in a single month represent just 0.9% of total employment. Check out these charts:

In addition, retail sales jumped 1.3% in October, the biggest gain in eight months. Excluding auto sales and gas, sales were up a strong 0.9%.

The bottom line is that we can’t stop reading at the headlines. The story is so much more complex than a headline. That said, inflation and recession are very much at play right now.

Recovering: It’s no secret that the pandemic disrupted the lives of most Americans (maybe all) across the four pillars of health, family, purpose, and finances. The good news is that people’s assessment of their recovery and how they are faring since the pandemic is on the rise, with finances the slowest to recover (see chart). The battle to stabilize and grow financially is still a work in progress. The combination of these factors certainly highlighted the benefits of a comprehensive financial plan. The pandemic led nearly 70 million Americans to rethink the timing of retirement, either by postponing it or accelerating it because they rethought their priorities as continuing to work was less attractive.

Business Briefing

  • Musk Announces Amnesty: On Thursday, Elon Musk announced he would reinstate most banned Twitter accounts after 72.4% of respondents to a Twitter poll said they favored “general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” (The Washington Post, The Associated Press)
  • Black Friday: The holiday shopping season officially kicked off on Friday, but consumers are, as expected, watching every dollar as continued inflation threatens their buying power. The National Retail Federation projects holiday sales to grow 6-8%, down from a strong 13.5% last year. Recent data shows that Americans are holding out for big discounts or replacing luxury goods with less expensive alternatives. (The Associated Press)
  • Student Loan Payment Pause: On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced it would extend a pause on federal student loan payments until after June, or whenever it plans to forgive some student debt takes effect. The payments, suspended in the coronavirus pandemic, had been scheduled to resume in January. (CNBC)

Screen-Free: A boarding school in Williamstown, MA, is conducting a social experiment—a smartphone ban for all faculty and students. Teachers grew tired of being gadget police even in the classroom, where students consistently looked down at them, even though they were prohibited. School administration realized a drastic change was needed after a student live-streamed a physical altercation. Many students watched the social media post, and it became the talk of the school. The administration began discussing a ban, but many students didn’t think it would happen. Until it did. Each student was given a Light Phone for essential communication. While the experiment is only two months old, the overall feedback is positive. Students are more engaged, teachers are less distracted, and no one is being bombarded with outside pressure from social media or constant texts. Perhaps this would be a healthy policy to consider over your next family holiday gathering?

Albert Einstein’s comment rings true here, long before the advent of the smartphone: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”